A dominant defensive performance in the second half propelled No. 19 Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1) to a comeback victory over Notre Dame (3-7, 0-4), 77-63.
“I didn’t think we were Virginia Tech on Wednesday, and I didn’t think we were very good in the first half here,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We got some things together, and [the second half] was as good of a half as we’ve had in quite some time.”
After shooting 55% from the field in the first half and putting up 42 points, Notre Dame made just two of its 19 attempts after halftime. This includes the Irish missing their final 15 shots, not making any field goals after the 12:15 mark of the second half.
“We didn’t adjust a darn thing. We just guarded in the second half the way we wanted to in the first half,” Young said. “We communicated much better and were able to keep a body on a body. We had a couple of textbook possessions, and Notre Dame who is very good offensively, had a hard time getting a shot.”
The Irish were able to put up 21 points in the frame despite their struggles while the ball was in play. This is thanks to Notre Dame’s opportunities at the free throw line where they made 16 of 20 attempts in the final 20 minutes.
Not only were the Hokies much-improved defensively in the second half, but they also took a step forward on the offensive end. Tech dropped in 42 points after halftime, doubling up the Irish on its way to a 14-point victory.
This offensive outburst was spurred by Justyn Mutts and Hunter Cattoor, who each had 12 second-half points. Mutts made his final six shots after starting 1-of-7 on the day.
“I thought the Louisville game was a real tipping point for him. I think he was getting outside of who he is,” Young said. “Boy, was he good tonight. What a shot in the arm that is.”
Cattoor made a huge impact on both ends of the floor. He hit two huge shots late to ice the game, including a deep three to give the Hokies an 11-point lead. Defensively, he drew two offensive fouls, which has become a specialty for the sophomore from Orlando.
“Smart wins in football, basketball, baseball and I’ve got a bunch of smart ones and basketball people that have a good understanding of what it’s supposed to look like,” Young said. “Hunter had a great night and helped us win. I’m proud of him.”
Once again, Jalen Cone had a hot night from beyond the arc. He was a bright spot for the Hokies in the first half with 14 points, including four three-pointers. In the second half he didn’t make a field goal, but was able to draw two fouls on long-range shots leading to four points.
“Coming into the game, they were focused on me. After I started knocking down some shots, they were really emphasizing it,” Cone said. “I have to do a better job because there were a few possessions where the offense could have gotten a better shot, but I’m just trying to let the game come to me. When guys start coming to me, it opens things up for Nahiem Alleyne and you saw today, Hunter Cattoor.”
It was a bounce back game for Keve Aluma who was coming off of his worst offensive performance of the season against Louisville. Aluma posted his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds, tying a season-high in boards.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” Aluma said. “My teammates have faith in me, so I was just trying to be the most aggressive that I can.”
The entire team had success on the boards on Sunday evening as the Hokies outrebounded Notre Dame by 17. Tech had a season-high 16 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second-chance points.
This performance was much-needed considering how the Hokies have struggled on the boards in their last two games. Tech was outrebounded by six or more against Miami and Louisville.
“It was a point of emphasis for us, just put your head down and get to the rim,” Young said. “I thought Miami and Louisville were a little bit tougher than we were, and that part of it is such a critical part of any game. I’m proud of our boys.”
Notre Dame was led in scoring by junior Nate Laszewski with 17, but the sharpshooter didn’t have has typical production. After entering the day shooting just under 60% from long range, Laszewski only attempted one three-pointer, which he missed.
“He’s an elite shooter, so we wanted him to floor it and try to make moves with the ball on the bounce,” Aluma said.
The celebration will be short-lived for the Hokies with Duke rolling into Blacksburg on Tuesday for a huge clash. The Blue Devils returned from almost a month hiatus with wins over Boston College and Wake Forest this week. Tech has taken three of the past four matchups with Duke in Cassel Coliseum.